2 Weeks, 1500 Miles: 1 Epic Roadtrip around Tennessee!

While I’ve been noticeably missing from my blog, newsletter and social media for the month of May, I’ve been out exploring the length and width of the great state of Tennessee, and we never once took an interstate. I’ve taken the time to visit some fantastic historic sites (look for a newsletter soon about our amazing visit to the Green- McAdoo Cultural Center.) We stepped off well-travelled paths to see monuments and museums, state parks, murals, and some truly beautiful views. Along the way we stayed in historic and luxury cabins, ate some delicious meals, and met some truly incredible people. I’m finally unpacked, and have enjoyed some time with all of my adult kids back at home, and now I’m ready to organize my thoughts and start sharing all of my amazing adventures with you! (Well, I have a few June trips in the works, but I hope to write more on the road this time!)

My May travels took me in a giant figure eight around the edges of TN, with our Lynchburg home at the center, tying our West and East Tennessee adventures together. I hope you enjoy following along on my travels that ventured from Union City in the Northwest corner of the state all the way to Carvers Gap in the very northeast portion of the Tennessee mountains at the very spot where they meet both North Carolina and the Appalachian Trail.

This trip was the first time my husband and I have been away alone together for this long since we were married 23 years ago. It seemed like it was time to get out there, do some exploring of the state we’ve called home this whole time, and just get reacquainted with each other as we move into this next phase of life together. We had so much fun! I can’t wait to share all of my reflections on our travels; especially the day a WWII soldier stepped out of the fog and asked for a ride, the day I learned what “tall people secrets” were, and the afternoon we spent tracking down a church in Crossville, TN built from an old army surplus building from right here in Tullahoma.

While neither of us are from Tennessee, we have learned to love this place we call home, and both truly enjoy exploring its history, nature and beauty from north to south, and east to west. One thing that I have definitely learned from my travels so far is that every place, no matter how big or small, has a history. There are stories of the men and women who came before current generations wherever you go, and every single one of those stories is worth hearing. If you get a chance, get out there and explore your local area, see what’s there, talk to the people you meet, and your life will be richer for it. Meanwhile, keep following along here as I explore further and further afield from my own home base, and you never know, maybe I’ll see you out there.

What does chasing women’s history look like?

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I find myself feeling constantly behind on writing, blogging, and posting about what I’m up to, so I thought I would explain a little bit what this whole thing looks like to me right now. I’ve had this fantastic idea to find and record these women’s camps, and to learn more about women’s history in general. Every book I read, every site I visit, every web page I dig through, I’m constantly repeating in my head: “But where are the women.” It turns out this is not an easy question to answer. Any given day finds me annotating musty library books, original archived documents, or more recent web articles about women’s camps and other lost facets of women’s history, primarily from the 1930’s and 1940’s. However, it seems that for every stone I turn, there are little snippets of information that start to scurry off in every direction like an army of so many pill bugs when exposed to the light when their hiding places are disturbed.

Here’s an example: I recently revisited the great little book Camp Forrest (Images of America) which I had read before from a local interest perspective. This time, I took notice of women in the pictures, gleaning every little bit I could about who they were, and what their roles were at the training center during WWII. I noted that while the book discussed how women worked in the 9000 square foot laundry, and then later the POW’s interred there did the same, the connection was never made that if the inmates were now doing the work that had previously been done by local women, then those women most likely lost their jobs and were simply dismissed. With most of America’s men off fighting the war, it was the women left at home trying to make ends meet. It’s these connections that are important to me when piecing together women’s history.

Here’s how an average recent week went for me. First, I read the book. Something I read made me curious about maps if the area at the time, probably about how there were so many troops (including Women’s units?*) arriving in Tullahoma during the war years, that the railroad station wasn’t big enough, and so a second, larger one was built a few blocks away to accommodate the increased traffic. Well, that made me wonder where that second, larger station was? Is the building still in existence today? Suddenly I found myself cruising around downtown Tullahoma looking for answers. Then, I did the next logical thing- using the Avenza mapping app that I originally got for hiking maps, I uncovered maps of the local area from 1936 and 1941. While I didn’t find the depot I was looking for (yet*) I made two new discoveries. One was a collection of buildings on the outside of town described as the Girls Vocational School* (on the grounds of the present day Correctional Training Facility) -very interesting. Second, I noticed a section of land on the western edge of Tullahoma (technically in Moore County) listed as the Camp Forrest Motlow Annex. I had already been curious about the photos showing troops training at Cumberland Springs and learning how to float tanks and trucks across Cumberland Lake (both not far from our house) and so my next stop along this wandering trail of discovery was to use Google Maps to compare modern Cumberland Land Management Company holdings to the vintage maps from Avenza. 

Imagine my surprise the very next day when an article in the Lynchburg Times about the new solar farm going in on this same property mentioned in passing that this land was formerly leased to the federal government as part of Camp Forrest training facility. Since I was already out in the area, I took the long way home, starting at the far end of Cumberland Springs Road, looking for evidence or hints, not only to this bit of WWII history, but also taking a moment to appreciate what I have always thought was one of the most beautiful spots in our area before it is changed forever by the incoming solar farm. Today’s progress is tomorrow’s history, after all.

Please heed warnings like these when you are out exploring- sometimes history can be dangerous!

Not only did I find evidence that I was indeed looking in the right area, but there were new signs labeling the fields on both sides of the road as former Camp Forrest property (along with unexploded munitions warnings.) Note that through all of this I wrote nothing more than a few jotted notes here and there, but I was excited to dig into more local history that would possibly be tied to my research in some way. I honestly love every minute of the hunt, and cant wait until I am able to get out even more often and find more of these types of places, all over America. So, go find your passion- and follow wherever it leads you- no matter who your detractors are. Life is supposed to be an adventure that inspires you, and you never know what you might find out about the world and yourself along the way. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

*Everything marked with an asterisk (*) is another research area that I’m now looking into. It’s a never ending process, and I’m enjoying the ride.

Cabin Camping

Every January for the past 5-6 years, my friend, Tina, and I have loaded up whatever kids we have handy (hers, mine, other people’s) and headed to a state park where it’s likely we can see some snow. Cabin camping gives us the opportunity to go to a park, enjoy all the great things there are to do there, and we still get to sleep in a real bed out of the weather, away from the bears. It’s a win-win in my book. In the past, park cabins have often been steeply discounted in the off-season months, and this last year they instituted a state resident discount. There are also discounts available for active duty and retired military, and state employees. We have enjoyed snow at both Standing Stone State Park and Cumberland Mountain State Park in various years. This past year we took the last two kids we have at home between us and went further east to Norris Dam State Park (where I was inspired to start this whole project.) Here are some other cabin camping trips I’ve taken over the years.

Cabin 18- Norris Dam State Park (sorry, we’d already taken out the linens when I remembered to snap a photo)

All three girls and I went to Natchez Trace State Park one year that it was 105° and thunderstorms kept popping up and we wanted to camp, but tent camping was out of the question. They have Camping Cabins that are essentially 2 sets of bunk beds, and an air conditioner, with a charcoal grill and picnic table outside. You’ve probably seen this style of cabins at a KOA at some point (those are fun places to stay too!). It’s still camping if you have to walk to the bathroom in the campground in my book.

The girls and I all went to Pickett State Park on a last minute midweek discount one summer. The fresh bear poop on the trail and the bear proof trash cans convinced the girls they had done the right thing by refusing to sleep in a tent there. It also poured at the end of the trip, further justifying their “no tent” stance, but in the middle we did some great boating and hiking, and once it rained we painted canvases we had brought along.

We all stayed at a cabin at Chickasaw State Park to be close to a friend’s wedding one year, Montgomery Bell for my oldest daughter’s 16th birthday -it snows on her birthday every year, that year didn’t disappoint- and Standing Stone for a different birthday. We also stayed in a cabin at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park for one of our middle daughter’s birthdays, with her less than outdoorsy best friend in tow. She was a great sport about our version of outdoors weird. 

Finally, I’ve already written about how my youngest and I just stayed at Standing Stone again for her spring break. Looking back, I realize this is the park we have cabin camped at most often, though we’ve also tent camped, and taken our pop-up there as well. What can I say? It’s a great park!

Cabin 16- Standing Stone State Park

Now, to celebrate being fully vaccinated and our upcoming second 23rd anniversary, my husband and I are planning a park hopping adventure in east TN in the next few weeks. We’ve chosen to cabin camp because it’s been three years since we went away anywhere by ourselves, and it feels like a fun way to explore some parks (in bear country) that we’ve not visited together before. I’m going to use my planning for this trip as an example for what I pack on a cabin camping trip in mild weather, and when we get back, I’ll share with you where we went and what we did!

In my next few camping posts I’ll share my standard packing list and the logic behind it, and what we like to plan for menus, since they can be a little fancier than at the campground since we will have a full kitchen available. One year, Tina really upped the game by bringing a pasta maker and having all the kids help hang homemade fettuccine all over the cabin; on chairs, utensils, the faucet, the stove handle, from the light fixtures… It was fantastic! I’ll also talk about the easy way we divide up chores when we camp as friends, because it works flawlessly every time. I’ll also share more about what I keep in my daypack, in my truck box, and in my camping box.

One thing I already mentioned was taking canvases with us to paint. I always try to have some activity planned, usually based on what the weather will be like. In the past we’ve made cookies, baked birthday cakes, had birthday parties, done scavenger hunts, held our own winter Olympics, attended junior ranger programs, hiking, boating, swimming, ranger led nature walks and activities, visited nature centers, painted our toenails, gone to flea markets, done puzzles, and we always bring a few games with us. Our family’s favorite games are travel Scrabble, Yahtzee, Banana-grams, UNO, and good old fashioned card games. Of course we don’t do all of these things every time, but I usually at least have scrabble, UNO, and a deck of cards with me.  

So maybe you are a diehard minimalist backpacker, and these posts may not be for you, but you never know, maybe you’ll get some ideas for new menu items (flatbread pizza?) or new activities. Maybe you don’t think of yourself as a camper at all, and would rather stay in-town at a fancy hotel. Stick around, you might learn just how nice state park cabins are these days, and may find that this kind of camping just might work for you after all. Either way, I hope you’ll come back and read more about the way we camp, and where we go along the way. There’s no right or wrong way to camp, the point is to get out there and enjoy these wonderful public spaces that belong to all of us, and contain some of the most beautiful landscapes in America. It’s a big wide world beyond the city limits- maybe I’ll see you out there.

Retrospection, Dresden, TN FAP Mural

Minnetta Good. 1938, Retrospection, [oil on canvas]. USPS, Dresden, TN.

This is the second mural I found on my way to Martin last month, and this is the third Post Office I have visited with this particular layout, which I’m finding almost as interesting as looking for the murals themselves. As you can see from the photo below, this particular building was erected in 1936, as part of the New Deal program to bring modern post offices to rural areas and small towns across the country. This particular mural looks back at the history of Tennessee, showing a log cabin with a person assumed to be Davy Crockett and the purchase of land from the Native Americans on the left side of the panel, moving through the plantation era in the center to the state’s industrialization period with the depiction of a stage coach and the coming railroad in the right portion of the piece. According to The New Deal Art Registry, artist Minetta Good received this commission as well as a second one entitled Evangeline in the St. Martinville, LA Post Office- which can be viewed at the link above.

While there is certainly an oversimplification of Tennessee’s tumultuous past in this painting, I do like how Good included people from various groups that made the state what is is today: Native Americans, Scotch- Irish Pioneers, African Americans, railroad workers, farmers, men, women, even a small child down in the bottom right corner. I feel these people observing the scene can be interpreted as the past, present, and future generations of Tennesseans. I enjoyed visiting the little town of Dresden quite a lot, and took the time to explore the grounds of their courthouse while I was there as well. I’m learning that every little town has an interesting story to tell, if we just stop and take the time to listen. I invite you to go explore a small town in your corner of the world, and look to see what stories it holds. Who Knows? Maybe I’ll see you out there.

Post Office, Dresden, TN
Dresden Post Office Cornerstone

Gleason Agriculture: Gleason, TN FAP Mural

Anne Poor. 1942. Gleason Agriculture., [tempera on canvas]. USPS, Gleason, TN.

On a recent trip to Martin to see my daughter, I mixed business with pleasure, and took the time to find two more of the FAP murals that were painted by women. (Though I should confess that is doesn’t feel like business at all to me, because I love these adventures I’ve been on lately, and am thoroughly enjoying spending hours immersed in research.)

The first of two murals I found that day, was this one in the tiny town of Gleason, TN. I have quickly learned that one of the greatest things about going to find these murals in person is that I’m visiting little towns that I don’t otherwise see. In TN, as in much of America, the highways now go around small downtown areas, and unless you go out of your way to find them, there are some really great places you will otherwise never experience. Technically, I drive through the edge of Gleason on Rt. 22 every time I go to Martin, but I had never seen the town itself. It had a time stands still feel to it, with a little square that was completely charming on the beautiful day that I visited, where I literally watched neighbors stop to catch up with each other. (I forgot to get pictures of the square, but maybe I’ll make a return trip someday to explore more.)

Post Office, Gleason, TN

While the exterior of the post office has a more modern look than the one in Livingston I had previously visited, as soon as I stepped through the doors I knew where to find the mural, because on the inside the layout was exactly the same as the first post office, which seemed quite a lucky coincidence. There the mural was, hanging over the postmaster’s door, for the people of this tiny town to enjoy every day.

This particular mural was painted in 1942 by the Artist, Anne Poor, who would go on to join the Women’s Army Corps during WWII as one of the only female war correspondent/ artists. (Look for more on her in a later post.) This mural was one of the last to be installed in Tennessee before the nation’s focus shifted to the war effort. In it it shows the history of the agriculture in the area, based on the cultivation of sweet potato plants, developed by Mr. W.R. Hawks.1 with a classic Train Depot in the background, and a market scene in the front.

I really liked this one, in the way that it reminded me of The Wizard of OZ movie, where it starts in black and white and then changed to color once they reach OZ. On the right is the representation of Hawkes the “father” of of sweet potato culture.2 In my opinion, much like in the movie, I feel like the black and white section is showing how the area was undeveloped and experiencing hard times, and then Hawks comes in and hands the planter a sweet potato slip, and the rest of the colorful portion of the painting is showing Gleason as a place of progress and prosperity after the town began cultivating this profitable crop. I feel like this technique really helps Poor tell a story of the area in one panel, and I think it’s well done.

  1. Hull, Howard. Tennessee Post Office Murals. Johnson City, TN: Overmountain Press, 1996.
  2. Ibid.

My 10 car camping essentials. It’s probably not what you are expecting.

Hi there! In my last camping post (which you can read here) I promised I would give you the list of my 10 car camping essentials. As the name implies, these are the things I wouldn’t leave home without, (not on purpose anyway) no matter who is going, where we are going, or how long we plan to be gone. Without further ado: here you go.

Not my most glamorous photo, but I pulled these things straight from my truck box to show you.
  1. A blue tarp: Yep, the kind they sell everywhere. This thing can make or break a trip for you. You can put it under the tent as another layer against the ground, aka: “a footprint.” Use it as a simple shelter over your hammock or instead of the tent that just ripped…You can put it over the top of your tent for extra protection if its raining or cold. It can be a dining canopy over the picnic table, or a dry place to sit by the fire if the ground is wet. It’s an easy way to haul small branches you gather for kindling (only downed wood on the ground, and only if the park allows it, some don’t.) Need an easier place to change than in your 3′ tall tent? make a changing room. Find yourself near a beach? It will work as a beach blanket in a pinch. Camping with toddlers or babies? Voila! You now have somewhere to change that soggy diaper besides on your sleeping bag. You’re welcome. Ok, now you know. Throw a tarp in the back of the car today, you never know when it might come in handy.
  2. Bug Spray: Seriously. Nothing will make you miserable faster (well, except the rain, but you have your tarp, right?) than the mosquitoes trying to steal your s’mores and join you on your hike. Find some you like, something safe for kids if you have them, be sure the dog is protected too, and again, take it everywhere. If you are going into the woods somewhere where ticks are a problem, you need to be sure you take a product that will repel them, even if its more chemical laden than you are usually ok with. Ticks are nasty little blood suckers that carry disease. Just don’t fool around here or it will ruin your trip, and you might end up sick. Thanks.
  3. Ratchet Straps: Yep. The kind your dad uses to hold the lawn mower onto the trailer. Hear me out here… You want to hang a hammock, but the trees are too far apart, or too big around. Use ratchet straps. They are strong, don’t hurt the trees, and you can get them tight enough you won’t fall out of the hammock later. They can hold up a tarp, anchor an awning or tent in high wind, make a clothesline, or be something to put your tarp over to make a shelter when you realize you left the tent poles at home… again, these things are magical.
  4. Sun Block: Get something with at least SPF 30. For the next 3 days you intend to live outside in the woods. Your poor nose hasn’t seen that much sun since you waited in line to see Metallica in 1998. Often, we think to put sunblock on when going to a pool or beach, but you need to make it part of your morning campground ritual as well. If you are camping anywhere near bear country remember this is not the time to smell like a Piña Colada.
  5. Extra Socks: I know, it’s July, and you are a die hard flip flopper. But trust me on this one. One of the most used items in my truck box is the package of men’s white tube socks. We call them 4H socks at our house, because inevitably, someone would run out of socks at some 4H camp or event, or get their feet wet, or start getting blisters from their cute little pug socks… it’s always something. I’m not ashamed to admit it, I’m the sock mom. But seriously- dry warm feet can make any trip better. I recommend the tube socks with no heel, because they can work for anyone in a pinch. A few extra ways you can use them: (clean ones only please) as a water bottle koozie, as mittens, as a pot holder, as thigh highs to protect little knees if you have a crawling baby, and one plus some duct tape can make a sturdy cast without hurting skin when you add item number 6 on the list:
  6. Duct Tape: Yep. The silver stuff. Just like dad uses for everything. By now I’d think everyone knows to keep this stuff around, but here’s a few camping specific reasons I think it’s a “must carry” item. Besides the makeshift cast I already mentioned, it can be a blister band aid, or keep a cut clean. It can seal up holes in the tent when that hatchet you were using to hammer in tent pegs gets away from you… You can repair your friend’s flip flop, fix the hole in Jr’s beach ball, attach your flamingo lights to the awning. Literally a million uses. Get a roll and keep it in your car.
  7. Food you don’t have to cook: I know, we all have romantic ideals about catching a fish, and cooking it over hot coals- or at least cooking our s’mores over hot coals. Inevitably something will go wrong at some point: the fire won’t light, it’s raining, the camp stove runs out of gas, that 2 mile hike was really 4, kids are picky, adults get tired of how much more work it is to cook outside, there’s always something. A box of Pop Tarts, some Spaghettio’s, or some good old bread and peanut butter will make you really happy when the power goes out at the park 5 minutes after you check into your cabin. For example.
  8. Water: Even if the campsite has a hookup, or there’s a spigot nearby, throwing a few gallons of water into the back is a way to be sure you won’t be stuck if the park water tastes off, the drunk college kids from the site next to yours made the community spigot a biohazard last night, or if the people in the flooded tent let their kids make Nesquick in the bathhouse sink while mom grabs a shower, so you need some water to brush your teeth. It’s easy insurance that you will be having a better weekend than she is.
  9. Glow Bracelets: So this one may seem odd, but if you go to the dollar store, you can grab a couple packs of these, and they are surprisingly handy in a dark campsite. Kids getting whiney? Break out the glowsticks. Keep losing the little snot gobblers in the dark? Glowstick them. Do you have a black dog who disappears in the campsite and you keep tripping over her? Glowstick her collar (just be sure they aren’t going to chew on it, much like kids.) that tree root just outside the camper door? Glowstick. Stakes holding up the awning or your tarp-tent? Glowstick. Forgot your flamingo lights, or the site doesn’t have electric? some of the longer glow necklaces make great party lights, and will actually put off enough light for you to make those PB & J Sammies when you get back from the surprise 4 mile hike after dark. You’re welcome.
  10. Inflatable Beach Ball: So while you are at the dollar store picking up Pop Tarts and glowsticks, grab a beach ball. Inevitably at some point you will hear it… the whine of a 7 year old saying, “Mom, I’m bored!” You can save the day with a beach ball and a little air. This thing packs flat, is stupid cheap, everyone from 9 months to 90 can play, and it isn’t a big deal if the kid from 3 sites away takes it home. I have carried a beach ball in my car since our girls were tiny. We’ve broken it out to entertain kids at a friend’s outdoor wedding, at 4H shows when there is down time, the agents are busy, and you the intrepid 4H parent find yourself suddenly tasked with keeping 30 kids you don’t know busy and relatively clean in a dirt horse arena for 2 hours. I know that’s not a camping specific example, but it is legit. It is a way for you kid to break the ice with other kids in the park, or for adults to have something to do while the kids are on the playground. This is my #1 parenting secret weapon. (besides the socks.)
Water, pop-tarts, and the famous 4H socks. (used, but clean)

So there you have it. My unconventional list of what to keep in the car at all times so that you can always have a good camping trip, picnic, or 4H event! It’s seriously less than $50 to keep these things on hand, and can really salvage almost any trip. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

Total immersion: Writing at Standing Stone State Park

The last two weeks have been a little busy around here, and while I haven’t updated the blog much, I’m still out here doing my thing, and writing about it. Today I wanted to share about my trip to Standing Stone State Park in Hilham, TN at the beginning of the month. I’ve mentioned that we took the trip in my other March posts, but one of my favorite parts of the adventure was the cabin we stayed in. Here are the thoughts I wrote down while we were there:

Cabin 16

This week has been Spring Break from college for my youngest daughter, and we decided to go to Standing Stone State Park in Hilham, TN to stay in a cabin and do some hiking and relaxing. While it has been a fantastic place to spend some time together and do just that, I also had the unexpected chance to really immerse myself in the time period I’m interested in. Standing Stone is a park that was created in 1939 as part of a collective WPA, CCC, and Forestry service plan to relocate local farmers off poor soil areas and to reforest overused slopes and add recreational facilities to the area.

The cabins have been recently renovated, but retain a vintage feel while being totally comfortable.

It is purely good luck that I found myself staying in a WPA cabin this week. Shortly after our arrival there was a power outage, and it felt like we had slipped through time back into the 1930s for sure. There we were at sunset watching the gorgeous view from the top of the ridge overlooking the CCC dam below us, on a stone terrace, at a rustic picnic table playing Scrabble by lantern and the sun slipped below the horizon. Back at the cabin, the power returned in time for dinner, and we had the (gas) fireplace going to keep the cabin cozy as we enjoyed a simple supper of pork chops, rice and green beans I had canned over the summer and brought from home.

Sunset from the Tea Room Deck

That evening I was fortunate enough to have the time to sit down to my research at a rustic writing desk tucked into the corner, reading about the very programs that had built the room in which I was sitting, sipping the last of my hot cider. The cabin has no TV or WIFI, but it was something we actually really liked, this sense of being unplugged for few days. What the cabin does have is a simple radio, and after a little fiddling with the dial, we were delighted to pick up an AM station out of Ontario, Canada that happened to be playing a Big Band Sunday Night program. So there I was, in a WPA cabin, cut off from the outside world, a single lamp, and the music from the same era fading in and out across the airwaves. It was like I had slipped back in time, and it also made me reflect on the simple things, and how we really don’t need as much in this world as we have all become accustomed to.

my new happy place

If you get a chance to go stay in a Tennessee State Park cabin, I highly recommend it. Pack some board games and a deck of cards, make use of the rockers on the front porch, and don’t forget to take time to watch the sunset. You won’t be sorry that you did. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

There was never a bad time of day to enjoy this porch.

Horse Swapping Day: Manchester, TN FAP Mural

Minna Citron. 1942. Horse Swapping Day,. [oil on canvas]. USPS, Manchester, TN.

Last week, while enjoying my youngest daughter’s college spring break, we kicked off our mural hunting adventure on our trip to Standing Stone State Park. We were able to view two of the Modern DMA Walls For Women murals, the FAP mural in Livingston, TN, and this one, located in the Manchester, TN post office on our way back. We have found it’s fun to pop into a post office and ask to photograph their mural, and most locals seem to still be proud to have such beautiful works on the walls of their small rural post offices. I’ve compared it to playing Pokémon Go for history nerds.

This mural was part of the “Forty-Eight State Competition” of 1939 which required that the murals reflect the “American Scene.”1 American Painter Minna Citron, accomplished this by featuring the Manchester square in the background, and by giving a nod to Tennessee Walking Horses. One of the horses in the painting is said to be modeled after Gene Autry’s famous horse, Champ, Jr. Already an accomplished artist by this time, Minna Citron, participated in several New Deal programs both as an instructor and as an artist. I look forward to seeing her other Tennessee mural located in Newport, TN, in the future.

The original Manchester post office was located at the intersection of McLean and Spring Streets, from 1921 to 1931, when it was moved across the street to the intersection of North Spring and East Fort streets. Originally, the mural was installed at the 1939 WPA constructed post office located at 200 N Spring Street, on the side of the Manchester town square. Today, the mural is housed in the modern postal facility located at 1601 Hillsboro Blvd.2

  1. Hull, Howard. Tennessee Post Office Murals. Johnson City, TN: Overmountain Press, 1996.
  2. Campbell, Jane Banks, and Lori Jill Smith. Manchester. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2013.

The Newcomers: Livingston, TN FAP Mural

Margaret Covey Chisholm. 1940.The Newcomers. [oil on canvas]. USPS, Livingston, TN.

On our recent trip to Standing Stone State Park, we visited the post office in Livingston, TN to see this fantastic mural, the first of the 10 painted by women that I’m looking to visit across Tennessee. It was painted in 1940 as part of the Treasury Section of Fine Arts (TSFA) program. The Section, as it was known, held a competition for artists to submit their work to be chosen to decorate hundreds of new post offices across the country that were built as part of WPA work projects. In an attempt to create jobs for artists as well as laborers, it was agreed that one percent of the building funds for each new federal building project would go to ornamentation.1

This particular mural was created by artist, Margaret Covey Chisolm, who chose the classic image of a cabin raising and new pioneers being welcomed to Tennessee by their neighbors, who come bearing gifts of livestock as her subject matter. Despite being painted on the same wall as two other murals I have since visited, this one felt much larger due to the way it extends down between the postmaster’s door and the bulletin boards, and also all the way up to the ceiling. All of the records I have found of the artwork say that it is oil on canvas, but I wonder about that a little, with the way it extends down the wall. Perhaps this one was painted directly on the wall, or maybe the canvas was applied somewhat like wall paper? I’m not sure but it’s interesting trying to find out, either way.

Closeup of the artist’s signature just above the bulletin board frame.
Livingston’s New Deal Era Post Office, located at 105 S. Court Square

The woodwork and architecture of these old post offices are nearly as interesting as the murals themselves, and I find it interesting that three of the four I’ve visited so far have identical layouts. I’ll have to check and see if they were all designed by the same architect or not. (That’s right, I’ve already visited two more post offices since last week, so you know there will be more tales of my adventures coming soon.) As always, thanks for reading, and maybe I’ll see you out there.

Cornerstone of the Livingston, TN Post Office

The WPA Mural Project: A Surprising Opportunity for Women Artists.

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Minna Citron. 1942. Horse Swapping Day. [oil on canvas]. USPS, Manchester, TN.

One part of The New Deal Program that I find particularly interesting is the murals that were commissioned as part of the Federal Art Project (FAP) under the WPA. The works were often installed in newly constructed post offices or other public buildings, and the program was responsible for returning thousands of artists back to work during the Depression years. According to the book Tennessee Post Office Murals one of the interesting things about this program was the way in which the artists were selected to do the work. In an effort to control favoritism and cronyism, there was a blind selection process, where artists submitted their ideas for the project anonymously, therefore their work was selected based on its merit alone. This opened up opportunities for women and artists of color that were otherwise limited to them in the Depression Era. As a result, there are a number of wonderful murals out there that were created by some famous, and some not so famous female artists.

In Tennessee alone, there are twenty-eight murals in TN post offices that were created as part of the FAP project. Ten of these were created by women. Knowing me, you probably see what is coming… I’ve started visiting post offices that contain the murals to see them for myself. There’s something inspiring for me about standing in a Depression Era building viewing a piece of public art that also gives a sense of history of that time. Below you will find a list of the towns in TN with women’s murals, and I will include links to photos from my adventures as I get a chance to visit each of them. If you are curious if there might be a FAP mural near you, be sure to go check out the Living New Deal website, which is a fantastic database of nationwide New Deal projects. Keep exploring, and maybe I’ll see you out there.